Behind the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Sri Lanka is a catastrophic decision to force all the nation’s farmers to go organic. Tom Leonard in MailOnline has more.
From the ethically sourced produce shops of Islington to the chemical-free acres of the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove farm, you could almost hear the cheering three years ago when Sri Lanka’s future president pledged a revolution.
It wouldn’t be on the streets but in the fields – as Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed in his successful 2019 election campaign to transform the country into the world’s first fully organic farming nation.
Parroting the claims made for years by Prince Charles and fellow advocates of ‘sustainable farming’, the politician cited health and environmental reasons for this drastic move – in particular brandishing unproven claims of a link between chemical fertilisers and Sri Lanka’s high rate of chronic kidney disease.
Rajapaksa’s commitment to producing 100% of Sri Lanka’s food organically within a decade was accompanied by a ban on the use of all chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.
The consequences have been nothing short of catastrophic. Going organic – the bold, modern vision of the UK’s green lobby – has triggered the devastation of Sri Lanka’s economy, plunging much of its 22 million-strong population into desperate straits.
The chaos that has engulfed the country – including growing poverty, long queues for essentials, lethal street battles and attacks on the homes of government leaders – is a direct result of this one decision.
Rajapaksa’s announcement last April that the country’s two million farmers had to go organic overnight – and the disaster that has followed – is a timely lesson for all those who have been swept up by the hype surrounding organic food and its promise not only to improve our health but also to help save the planet.
Ironically, Sri Lanka had one of the strongest performing economies in Asia. In 2019, the World Bank upgraded its status to that of an upper middle-income country – only to reverse its decision just months after Rajapaksa was elected.
Soon after he ordered the organic transition, agronomists from the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association warned he was making a terrible mistake. For all his concerns about water contamination, soil degradation, kidney disease and biodiversity damage, the cons of going organic far outweighed the pros, they said.
Studies show crop yields drop by an alarming 30% under organic farming. Since the 1960s, Sri Lanka has subsidised farmers to use synthetic fertiliser, the main catalyst for the doubling of yields for many crops.
Outside the echo chamber of sustainable farming advocates, chemical fertilisers, along with pesticides and herbicides, are universally accepted as essential tools for modern agriculture.
Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on rice to feed itself and on tea to export. Forcing the producers of both crops to go entirely organic, warned experts, would drastically lower their yields – by 35% and 50% respectively. Rice is a nitrogen-intensive crop and is therefore tricky and expensive to grow without chemical fertilisers.
But Rajapaksa and his Government wouldn’t listen to the warnings. When his brother, Mahinda, was president a decade ago, he also encouraged organic farming.
They will no doubt have been motivated by Sri Lanka’s growing reputation as a top destination for eco-tourists, who are drawn to luxury hotels that serve organic food, produced on their own farms.
Shunning conventional food production experts, the Rajapaksas have taken guidance from a cranky ‘civil society movement’ called Viyathmaga, which sums up its values as “Spiritual inside, Technocrat outside”.
Worth reading in full.